'Back to school is just the tip of the iceberg': A psychologist on how parents can prepare kids for the long haul of the pandemic

·4 min read

The ongoing changes that come with the coronavirus pandemic are difficult enough to take on as adults, but what about children who are living in a world they might not recognize anymore? Now parents are tasked with preparing their kids for the long-haul of the pandemic.

“We really have no idea how far into the future this is going to go, and for kids, it is impacting their mental health,” says Yahoo Life Mental Health contributor Jen Hartstein. “We’re seeing more depression, more anxiety, more confusion... As adults in the lives of these kids, it's so important to provide reassurance, which is hard to come by when we don't really know what's to come.”

Hartstein shares some tips for how parents can approach helping their kids prepare for the changes they face, both long and short term.

Create a routine

“Routines are really helpful for everybody, and they’re especially helpful for children,” Hartstein says. “Structure helps us navigate and manage our own emotions.”

Whether school is in-person, virtual or a hybrid model, Hartstein advises that parents create a daily routine that they stick to, in order to offer kids stability in this time of confusion.

“Some of the routines that we think we maybe don't have anymore, we do. School is still happening. Work is still happening. So create some solid plans in your house,” she explains.

Creating a bedtime and morning routine can be helpful for kids no matter what school looks like for them these days, and Hartstein says that celebrating the weekend and creating a clear separation between work time and playtime can also be very beneficial.

“Create new routines that might have to change a lot, but work together as a family to create what will work for you.”

Fill kids in on changes bit by bit

“Back to school is just the tip of the iceberg in the changes kids are experiencing,” Hartstein says. “Things that they’ve known are going to be different into the end of the year and for who knows how far down the road. And preparing kids for that who don't always have longterm projection on their mind is really hard.”

Rather than overwhelming kids with all the potential changes the year could bring, Hartstein suggests tackling changes with your children event by event.

“Get through starting school, then you might have to get through Thanksgiving, then you might have to get through the holidays,” she says.

Hartstein says this will also make it easier on parents since things could look very different a few months down the road.

Validate your kids’ feelings

Our ability to tolerate disappointment is being tested more than ever, which can be especially impactful on children. Hartstein says while it’s difficult to see our kids upset, it’s important to take the time to validate their emotions and not rush to problem-solving too soon.

“Sometimes we are very quick to just say, ‘Yeah, it feels bad, let's figure out what to do about it.’ For some kids that's ineffective,” she explains. “They need to experience their emotions and we want them to be able to express their emotions, so allow time for that before you jump to try and change it. Validate it, sit in it with them, be that safe space and then move forward together.”

Take care of your feelings too

Like the classic airplane rule of securing your own oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs, Hartstein says parents can't help their kids unless they’re helping themselves.

“First step is to breathe, check-in with yourself and your own emotions before you go and help your kids' emotions,” Hartstein explains.

“It is what it is” is the motto Hartstein suggests parents live by. “It’s going to be constantly changing. Be prepared for that, experience the emotions and just keep moving.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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